I’m sitting at my desk this morning and my friend David pops into my thoughts, as he has done every day since 22nd November 2015. The day that he died.
David was one of those friends that it was impossible to “coast” with. In his presence, you were either switched on and fully engaged, or you were toast. He had a devilish sense of transgressive humour – he loved to push your boundaries and see exactly what you were really made of. He did this to his literary creations too, taking beautifully crafted characters and pushing them into circumstances that shattered every illusion they held dear and tested them to their very limits. It’s one of the reasons his writing is so powerful; you always knew that no-one was safe and that he was perfectly capable of murdering his darlings. His worlds, like Lovecraft’s, were places of existential horror, where bad things happened to good and bad people with even-handed disregard.
I met David late in 2007, and joined his gaming group in 2008, where we played his YELLOW DAWN RPG. David loved to torment his players, and he did it with such innocent glee that it was hard to hold it against him. My characters suffered a number of horrible deaths, most of which were notable for the amount of psychic trauma they inflicted on the witnesses. I loved them all. I got my revenge though. In a later phase of the campaign David ran an Orient Express-based game with detective-mystery episodes, and ran smack up against my weird knack for figuring out whodunit and how. He never complained about it though, but instead took it as a challenge to raise his game, just as he always did.
David, like most writers, was insecure about his profession and his abilities. Unlike most writers, he had very little cause to be so. He was driven to write, and even altered his sleep pattern in order to make the time necessary. He employed a polyphasic sleep system he called the “Da Vinci Method” which allowed him to work at peak efficiency for far longer than is normal. His productivity was remarkable; with a demanding full-time job and a loving relationship with his long-time girlfriend Jo, he also maintained an active social media presence, busily marketed himself, wrote and designed his own role-playing game (and ran a demanding gaming group), as well as having a busy social life. I still don’t know how he did it.
My friendship with David was different from those I enjoy with most of my friends. We shared the joy and the torment of writing, and we enjoyed attempting to out-smart each other with our various creative endeavours. David would come to me with plot issues, and we’d solve them together while walking briskly around the Bristol harbour side. To be honest, he always already knew the solution, but I think he enjoyed hearing me come to the same conclusion – he found it reassuring. David used to say that every time he did the walk without me, it rained, and he’d sometimes call me up to laugh as he got soaked.
David’s phone calls are still something that I miss. Every now and then you’d get a strange call during the evening from a variety of characters; the one that always threw me was the aggressive Belfast accent, telling me he knew where I lived and to give him the “feckin’ money”. Other times I’d hear an odd echo and the gentle sound of water, and know that for some bizarre reason known only to him, he was calling me from the bath.
David was wiry and lean, with a hungry look about him. He lived mostly on nervous energy, and towards the end this is what consumed him. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for years, so I’m in a better position than most to understand what he went through, but even I have never seen someone so completely…devoured by it. He’d been through a lot. A year or so before I’d met him, his father had died. The year after, his mother passed away. His day job had become increasingly insecure and stressful, and he’d talked about giving up writing – as if he ever could. Towards the end he suffered from almost constant anxiety attacks that were painful to see and must have been terrifying to endure.
Like all those who loved him, I’ve tortured myself with guilt over what I could have done to help David. It’s poignant for me because he and our mutual friends helped me through a period of the blackest depression that followed the break-up of my marriage. He helped save my life in a very real sense, and in the small hours of the morning I have often asked myself why I couldn’t do the same for him. It’s a form of vanity, I suppose – to assume that you’re powerful and influential enough to move the world, when the reality is that in most cases we’re simply driven by the tide. Admitting our powerlessness is never something that comes easily or comfortably. We always believe we could do more.
David took his own life on 22nd November 2015. He was found by Jo and I, though I prevented her from seeing the body, something that I will never regret. The world changed then, transforming into a place where David – my brother in everything but blood – would forever be referred to in the past tense. Life since then has been a surreal thing for everyone who knew him. Every day that has passed since has been a little stranger, as we get further and further away from him. There will be no more Dave stories, no more laughing fit to burst, no more lunchtimes at the Brigstowe Lounge or harbour side plot-wrangling. No more phone calls from the bathtub.
Just as H.P.Lovecraft’s epitaph is “I am Providence”, David’s should really be “I am Bristol”. He permeates the place. It makes me sad that there are people chatting in pubs and bars and they’ll never experience the beautifully random connections that he created just by being Dave. I like to think of him walking unseen among us right now, drawing threads of connection between strangers, an invisible agent of Bristol’s heart, wearing that smile he always wore when he introduced like minds and they clicked together.
Gods, I miss him.
Edit: This is a link to the post I wrote for David’s website, which includes the text of the eulogy I wrote for his funeral. I’m including it here for completeness.